Opting out will increasingly be the best (or only) choice for tens of millions of people globally.
Opting out means leaving the complicated, costly and now unaffordable / unbearable life you’ve been living for a new way of life that is radically less complex, less costly and less deranging.
Opting out is as diverse as the individuals who choose to opt out. For many people in China, for example, the obvious choice when you’ve lost your job and can no longer afford expensive urban life is to return to your ancestral village, where you’re likely to have grandparents, parents or aunts / uncles with a house and a patch of agricultural land.
Since urbanization has been a feature of American society for generations, this is not an option for most Americans, who are by and large rootless cosmopolitans who rarely even know their neighbors, as they move around the country out of necessity or ambition.
Just as “capitalism is no longer attractive to capitalists,” (per Wallerstein), urban living has lost its luster in ways few dare even discuss. Urban centers on the Left and Right Coasts have been magnets for jobs and capital, drawing in hundreds of thousands of new residents seeking higher paying employment. This vast influx pushed rents and housing valuations to nosebleed heights, and as a result all the local governments reckoned tax revenues would skyrocket every year like clockwork and all the developers building tens of thousands of over-priced rental units also assumed the trend would continue forever.
Too bad they didn’t read Laozi and learn that the Way of the Tao is Reversal: whether you call it the Tao or merely reversion to the mean, demanding $3,000 a month for cramped apartments and $1 million for decaying bungalows were extremes that begged for a reversal.
The federal unemployment payments and bailouts make it easier to extend the delusion and denial for a few more months, but eventually the gravity of reality will overpower magical thinking and everyone counting on overvalued assets and overpriced rent, healthcare, childcare, college tuition, etc. remaining at pre-pandemic levels will have to start dealing with deep, permanent declines in sales, employment, income, asset valuations, tax revenues, etc.
The higher the costs and taxes, the greater the sacrifices that will be needed to slash and burn budgets and spending. For high-cost, high-tax urban areas, it’s unlikely the political leadership will be able to force such sacrifices on self-serving insiders and government clerisies. The only real force for evolution / adaptation will be collapse and bankruptcy, which are already baked in as the end-game for every high-cost, high-tax urban region.
The Axis of Easy Triumvirate (Mark, Jesse and I) discuss opting out of urban decay in our new salon / podcast: Will “The Great Opt-Out” be able to scale? As Jesse noted, a necessary part of the solution is to make robust broadband Internet connections a predictable feature of rural living, as reliable bandwidth is a necessity for those working remotely in rural areas – an attractive opt-out option I’ve covered for years: Degrowth Solutions: Half-Farmer, Half-X (July 19, 2014), in which X is remote online work.
Lacking any rooted family place to return to, Americans will have to do what they do best when there’s no other option: re-invent themselves, and in pursuing this, they will re-invent small town and rural living as a by-product of opting out of what’s no longer affordable or bearable.
In my view, the author who best understood the American process of re-invention is Herman Melville. Though famous for his sprawling novel of the sea and whaling, Moby-Dick, my favorite novel of Melville’s is his under-appreciated classic, The Confidence-Man, a book I discussed in Do We Actually Want To Be Conned? All Too Often: Yes (September 3, 2008).
Every con depends on trust, and as trust and confidence are lost, cons become more difficult. Part of the process of re-invention is to find places, people and processes you can trust because they continually demonstrate their authenticity via transparency, accountability, reliability and honesty
Virtually nothing in America’s top-down financial and political realms is actually transparent, accountable, authentic or honest. Everything in these realms is a simulated, completely self-serving projection intended to fool us – the Big Con.
In re-inventing themselves via opting out, Americans will have to learn to contribute productively to small, localized beach-heads of trust, transparency and accountability that function on the local level in an anti-fragile fashion, meaning that they actually improve and get stronger as the top-down Big Con collapses under the weight of its own lies, frauds and corruption.
The Savior State’s promises to maintain your private status quo regardless of reality are false promises, delusions based on the Big Con that we can create trillions of dollars out of thin air and give them to the top .01%, and this will magically prompt an unsustainable system to keep issuing false signals of stability.
The promises are on permanent back-order, along with trust, transparency and accountability. The choice isn’t whether to opt out or continue hoping delusions and denial will work some sort of magic, but to choose whatever form of opting out works best for you and your household.